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Term used to denote a collective organization of either employers or employees (see employers' association, trade union) in the context of its function of protecting its members' interests in dealings with the corresponding party on the other side. In legal terms, collective organizations are non-profit-making associations. They possess legal capacity, with no formal registration or recognition requirements. Despite their very considerable importance there is no legislation on the subject in Sweden, but a number of general principles of law apply: such organizations must be open to all applicants who meet their membership criteria; the principle of equal treatment within associations means that all members enjoy equal rights and status; and members are both protected against arbitrary expulsion from the organization and entitled to leave without needing to state any reason. There is no public authority which oversees the unions and employers' associations or can impose, arrange, conduct or monitor ballots, and they are under no obligation to render accounts or otherwise report to any such authority. The absence of legislative regulation leaves them considerable freedom in running their internal affairs, usually effected in the form of a rule-book. On the trade union side, LO has adopted a standard rule-book for its member unions, although this is not binding.

An organizational structure has developed which is essentially the same for all trade unions and, by and large, the employers' associations as well. This structure comprises local organizations and, at the next level, sectoral/industry-wide organizations, which are then grouped together in a central federation. Within the meaning of the 1976 Co-Determination Act, a local organization is an association which is a party to local bargaining with the employer, and a sectoral organization brings together local organizations within industrial categories. Direct affiliation of individuals to the sectoral organization is almost unknown on the employee side, but very common on the employer side. A sectoral organization is usually national in scope and groups together all employees or employers in the particular industry concerned. Industry-based unionism is therefore predominant, but occupational unions do exist. Federations are groupings of sectoral organizations, and the major examples are SAF, LO, TCO and SACO. The distribution of the respective roles of their internal organizations is laid down in their rule-books.

Please note: the European industrial relations glossaries were compiled between 1991 and 2003 and are not updated. For current material see the European industrial relations dictionary.

Page last updated: 14 August, 2009